Monday, March 17, 2008

A Handful of Links

I've been too busy lately to write a real post, sorry to say. But I'm still managing to do some browsing...

--The Independent reports that the British Government is attempting to "rewrite" the history of the Iraq war as it is taught in UK schools:

Britain’s biggest teachers’ union has accused the Ministry of Defence of breaking the law over a lesson plan drawn up to teach pupils about the Iraq war. The National Union of Teachers claims it breaches the 1996 Education Act, which aims to ensure all political issues are treated in a balanced way.

Teachers will threaten to boycott military involvement in schools at the union’s annual conference next weekend, claiming the lesson plan is a “propaganda” exercise and makes no mention of any civilian casualties as a result of the war.

They believe the instructions, designed for use during classroom discussions in general studies or personal, social and health education (PSE) lessons, are arguably an attempt to rewrite the history of the Iraq invasion just as the world prepares to mark its fifth anniversary.

The article notes numerous distortions and lies (including the canard about Iraq's "failure to surrender" its [nonexistent] Weapons of Mass Destruction). Read more here.

--An event called "Winter Soldier," organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War was held in Silver Springs Maryland. "Winter soldiers, according to U.S. founding father Thomas Paine, are the people who stand up for the soul of their country, even in its darkest hours." Dahr Jamail reports (for Inter Press Service) on a panel on the rules of engagement (or lack thereof) for Iraq, held on the first day of the gathering:

Garret Reppenhagen received integral training about the Geneva Conventions and the Rules of Engagement during his deployment in Kosovo. But in Iraq, “Much of this was thrown out the window,” he says.

“The men I served with are professionals,” Reppenhagen told the audience at a panel of U.S. veterans speaking of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, “They went to Iraq to defend the U.S. But we found rapidly we were killing Iraqis in horrible ways. But we had to in order to remain safe ourselves. The war is the atrocity.”

The event, which has drawn international media attention, was organised by Iraq Veterans Against the War. It aims to show that their stories of wrongdoing in both countries were not isolated incidents limited to a few “bad apples”, as the Pentagon claims, but were everyday occurrences.

Read the whole article here.

--In the midst of the uproar over Geraldine Ferraro's remark managing to disparage both affirmative action and Obama in one mean stroke, the Inter Press Service reported that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) based in Geneva, Switzerland released a report concluding that the US is failing to meet international standards on racial equality. The US, you see, is a signatory of an international treaty-- the 1969 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination-- and the CERD is responsible for monitoring global compliance with the treaty:

In concluding the CERD report on U.S. record, the panel of experts called for the George W. Bush administration to take effective actions to end racist practices against minorities in the areas of criminal justice, housing, healthcare and education.

This is the second time in less than two years that the U.S. government has been found to be falling short of its treaty obligations. In March 2006, The CERD had harshly criticised the U.S. for violating Native Americans’ land rights.

Taking note of racial discrimination against indigenous communities, the Committee said it wants the U.S. to provide information about what it has done to promote the culture and traditions of American Indian, Alaska Native and indigenous Hawaiian peoples. It also urged the U.S. to apply the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The CERD also voiced strong concerns regarding environmental racism and the environmental degradation of indigenous areas of spiritual and cultural significance, without regard to whether they are on “recognised” reservation lands.

The Committee recommended to the U.S. that it consult with indigenous representatives, “chosen in accordance with their own procedures — to ensure that activities carried out in areas of spiritual and cultural significance do not have a negative impact on the enjoyment of their rights under the Convention”.

In its 13-page ruling, the U.N. body also raised serious questions about the death penalty and in the sentencing of minors to life without parole, which it linked to racial disparities between whites and blacks.

In their testimony, Bush administration officials held that the treaty obligations do not apply to laws or practices that are race-neutral on their face but discriminatory in effect. The Committee outright rejected that claim, noting that the treaty prohibits racial discrimination in all forms, including practices and legislation that may not be discriminatory in purpose, but in effect.

The gulag at Guantanamo also came in for criticism. Read the rest of the article here.

--An article in Foreign Policy in Focus by Ellen-Rae Cachola, Lizelle Festejo, Annie Fukushima, Gwyn Kirk, and Sabina Perez, Gender and US Bases in Asia-Pacific reports on the impact US bases overseas (including in Hawai'i, where the US military occupies one-fourth of the land) exercise on women's lives:

The power dynamics of militarism in the Asia-Pacific region rely on dominance and subordination. These hierarchical relationships, shaped by gender, can be seen in U.S. military exploitation of host communities, its abuse and contamination of land and water, and the exploitation of women and children through the sex industry, sexual violence, and rape. Women’s bodies, the land, and indigenous communities are all feminized, treated as dispensable and temporary. What is constructed as “civilized, white, male, western, and rational” is held superior to what is defined as “primitive, non-white, female, non-western, and irrational.” Nations and U.S. territories within the Asia-Pacific region are treated as inferiors with limited sovereignty or agency in relation to U.S. foreign policy interests that go hand-in-hand with this racist/sexist ideology.

At the end of their report, they conclude:

U.S. peace movements should not only address U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, but also in other parts of the world. Communities in the Asia-Pacific region have a long history of contesting U.S. militarism and offer eloquent testimonies to the negative impact of U.S. military operations there. These stories provide insights into the gendered dynamics of U.S. foreign and military policy, and the complicity of allied nations in this effort. Many individuals and organizations are crying out for justice, united by threads of hope and visions for a different future. Our job is to listen to them and to act accordingly.

The current elections in the US will have no impact whatsoever on the problem, of course.

--And finally, Carmen Boullosa's Garden of Monsters offers a fascinating review of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano's Nazi Literature in the Americas. Since her piece delivers a delicious punchline, I won't spoil it by saying anything more.

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